The next day, I met up with another friend from my program in China who was staying at my same hostel. Our first stop was a solid golden Buddha. We spent the rest of the morning wandering through Chinatown to find a pier and a ferry to cross Bangkok’s Chao Praya River. I never thought I would miss Chinese but it was surprisingly comforting to be able to read shop signs and hear words I recognized float by. After several failed attempts to find a cab willing to turn on its meter rather than haggle for a price up front, a friendly tuk tuk driver finally pointed us in the right direction to catch a boat across the river. The wind and water spraying helped us cool down from the intense heat, and it was neat to see the city speed by on our way to Wat Arun. Wat Arun is known for its tall spires but what really stood out to me were the intricate carvings and paintings around the temple. Not only were they still in relatively good condition, but no two statues were exactly alike. I can’t imagine the man power and time that went into building this monument.
The next morning, refreshed from a good night’s sleep and ready to leave ShangLi in our wake, we drove up into the mountains once more. MengDing Mountain is home to the oldest tea factory in the region. Armed with wicker baskets, we were sent into the never ending rows of bushes down in the valley to pick green tea leaves. Once we had amassed a collective basket worth of leaves amongst the 30 of us students, we trudged back up the mountain to prepare the tea for consumption. Unlike black tea, green tea is not fermented. Instead, the fresh leaves are dried in a large wok. Our tea master kneaded the leaves with his bare hands in the wok three time, with the heat increasing each time. The fresh tea was very soothing; prior to coming to China, I wasn’t a huge fan of green tea and preferred to stick to black or masala tea. However, Chinese green tea is fairly tasty and is supposed to be very good for one’s complexion and digestion, as a bonus.
As much fun as it was exploring a new region of China last week, it feels good to be back in Shanghai. Getting out of the cab outside the school gates and hearing the familiar jingle of the on-campus grocery store as we walked by, I felt a sense of home coming, like I do every time I get back to Georgetown after a break.
Unfortunately, getting back from a break also means returning to the reality of school. This week, we had class on Friday to make up for what we missed on Tomb-Sweeping day. What with all the traveling and the full five day week, not to mention the start of midterms, I was feeling pretty tired by the time Friday rolled around. But, after Chinese class, I rallied to do some sightseeing and explore some of the areas of Shanghai I had yet to see, starting with the Propaganda Poster Art museum.
We arrived in Tai’an around 10 pm at night, only to find out that the hostel we booked online had apparently been closed for two years. After a slight moment of a panic in which our cab driver circled aimlessly, probably vowing to never pick up Americans ever again, we hit up the closest hotels in the area. The first one we visited was already full but the second had space, so we booked one room
Happy Easter, for those of you who celebrate! To the rest of you, happy Sunday! I spent Good Friday like any good Catholic school girl* would, exploring Buddhist temples.
(One of the many buddhas at the Jade Buddha temple, however, not one of the jade buddhas, which I was not allowed to photograph)
Some of my more religious friends actually tried to attend mass on Friday, so I tagged along, curious to experience church in China because, why not? Unfortunately, English services here are hard to come by, improperly publicized and in niche locations so our plan quickly fizzled out. Instead, we ambled between neighborhoods, eventually settling upon a small restaurant named Abbey Road, where we indulged in some fondue for dinner. I can’t tell you how excited I was to taste real cheese, but if you’ve met me, you can probably guess.
I blinked and somehow I’ve been in Shanghai for a month. To cap off these jam-packed, culturally immersive past four weeks, CIEE (the organization running my study abroad program) took my classmates and I on weekend trips to big cities within our province. I ended up in Nanjing, a city just two hours west of Shanghai. Nanjing was previously the capital of China, on several occasions; in English, the city’s name literally translates to South capital.
Throughout China’s history, Nanjing has borne witness to several key events, from the beginnings of Dr. Sun Yatsen’s revolution to the infamous Nanjing Massare. We managed to pack a lot into two days, starting with Sun Yatsen’s mausoleum, followed by a monument honoring the Ming emperor who first set up Nanjing as the country’s capital.
(ABOVE: Cheesing at Sun Yatsen’s mausoleum; BELOW: Iconic stone camels at the Ming mausoleum)
At night, we took a brief boat tour to admire the light installations up for the lantern festival. After a full day of walking, we treated ourselves to some local street food, culminating in this towering mango milkshake masterpiece with a layer of cream on top of fresh mango juice, topped with mango slices and one scoop each of mango and vanilla ice cream. If none of my post-grad plans pan out, catch me bringing these bad boys to the U.S.
(ABOVE: My friends Julia, Suzy and I with our cherished mango creation; BELOW: Some of the lights along the river. Not pictured, the several Chinese ladies who crashed our boat, kicking our several students along with our tour guide in the process, and kept telling us to quiet down)
Sunday morning, we soaked up the sun and heavy 污染 at Xuan Wu lake, just across from our hotel, before hopping on our trusty tour bus over to the Nanjing Massacre memorial. In remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who were raped and murdered at the hands of the Japanese in 1937, this museum was a profound and emotional experience. I’m constantly struck by the deeply personal and different ways that people decide to honor and remember tragedy. The memorial reminded me of the Holocaust museum in D.C.; in my opinion, both institutions effectively blend personal narrative, external media and historical context to convey the depth of the tragedy. Prior to coming to Shanghai, I knew very little about the massacre, so it was powerful to learn more about such a pivotal time in China’s history.
(Outside the memorial)
In addition to expanding my cultural and historical awareness of the country I’m calling home for the next few months, the weekend trip was a nice opportunity to continue my ongoing tradition of weekend exploration. Additionally, since we signed up for these trips before reaching Shanghai, the mix of participants in each city kindly forced us to branch out beyond the initially-formed friend groups and get to know people not in any of our classes. If there’s one thing studying abroad in high school taught me, it’s that there’s nothing like several hours together in a bus to forge friendships.
With this latest trip, I have now knocked off all three cities on my initial China bucket list that I cobbled together before arrival— Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing. I’m excited to add more train tickets to my growing collection next week as my friends and I head North to the Shandong province for the upcoming Tomb Sweeping holiday. Until then, I plan to recharge and catch up on my sleep as much as possible.
* NB: To clarify, going to Georgetown, a Jesuit university, makes me a Catholic school girl. Also, after 13 years of non-denominational Christian education, including several years of Bible class, I’m feeling qualified enough to claim this title. #SorryNotSorry
This week, my Chinese class took a field trip to TianShan, also known as the tea city, which was exactly what I needed on a rainy Monday morning. Located just two bus stops from campus, “tea city” is actually a maze of shops dedicated to Chinese tea culture, with store fronts selling hundreds of different kinds of tea harvested from all across China as well as artisanal handcrafted tea pots and cups. While I’m definitely a big tea drinker, I usually stick to black and herbal teas. But in China, green tea is the thing, and to my surprise, the LongJing Lu Cha we tasted was my favorite, followed by a Ginseng Oolong that the tea vendor introduced to us as a favorite of most foreigners. The tea not only woke me up but also helped soothe my throat which had started feeling the side effects of Chinese air pollution.
Luckily, as the week went on, the weather improved enough for us to venture outdoors, just in time for this week’s Friday adventure: Hangzhou. From Shanghai, Hangzhou is a little further than Suzhou (where I went last week), but it’s still only a 1 hour train ride. In a shocking twist of events, this time around we didn’t miss any of our trains, making it to Shanghai around noon. After grabbing some fried rice from one of the many restaurants located surprisingly in the bowels of the train station, we set off for Hangzhou’s main attraction, West Lake. Rumored to have been one of Mao’s favorite spots, the enormous West Lake is a natural breath of fresh air in a country that often feels stiflingly industrial. Despite the ever present 污染, we still enjoyed a leisurely boat ride on the lake to reach the lush island at its center. On the island, we saw the “Three Gourds” which are known for their presence on China’s 1 kuai bill (a rare relic these days, in the era of WeChat and AliPay). From there, we hopped on another boat to the LeiFeng pagoda.